As the first generation to grow up in a completely digital world, Gen Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) has forever changed the ways in which we consume information. Among the many shifts, one is particularly noteworthy—Gen Z's use of social media as a primary tool to get health advice. According to a report in Forbes, “one-third of Gen Zers consult TikTok for health advice and another 44% turn to YouTube before turning to their doctor.”
Growing up surrounded by so much media, it makes sense that Gen Z finds most of its information from platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. However, Gen Z takes in a lot of health information on these platforms that would traditionally be received from physicians, trained medical professionals, teachers, and parents. They access health-oriented content through blogs, podcasts, videos, health influencers, and more. As a result, Gen Z's perception of health and wellness is largely influenced by the content they consume on social media.
This readily available information can be beneficial as it is accessible, free information promoting healthy behaviors, fitness, and overall well-being. For example, the rise of fitness influencers and healthy lifestyle pages has significantly contributed to a surge in awareness about physical fitness, mental health, and nutrition among Gen Z. The many groups focusing on specific health topics or conditions on social media can help people feel less alone and can help foster a sense of community.
In contrast, health content on social media can pose considerable risks as well. Owing to the incredibly fast diffusion of information on social media, misinformation can very easily thrive and can be very difficult (or even impossible) to correct once published. Along with the billions of other posts and pieces of information online, trustworthy content can be hard to identify. Social media platforms are also more likely to propagate false information if it generates impressions and clicks, with platform algorithms favoring user engagement over scientific validity.
A growing problem with health content on social media platforms is misdiagnosis, especially among teens. “One in five Americans reportedly consult TikTok before their doctors when seeking treatment for a health condition; the same proportion said they trust health influencers more than medical professionals in their community,” stated an article in Forbes on the results of a study released in 2022 by CharityRx. Many young people have started using social media platforms to self-diagnose, instead of seeking out a professional diagnosis. Many of the influencers posting health content do not have any medical credentials, experience, or training. This phenomenon can lead young people to make uninformed and potentially dangerous health decisions. “The largest social media platforms allow most types of content, so trained medical professionals trying to disseminate information can easily go unheard,” said Alan Gaffney, M.D. Ph.D. and co-founder of Tell. “We created Tell so general users can access a platform exclusively dedicated to health information from verified clinical experts.”
Gen Z’s use of social media for health content can be described as a double-edged sword. Misinformation thrives all too well, but it also makes way for a unique opportunity to promote healthier outcomes on a technological level. By using a platform like Tell, where all information is evidence-based and posted by verified clinical experts, people can find health content through a free and accessible medium that prioritizes correct medical information over clicks and engagement.